The CDC has warned against traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here are some ways to get you safely to new destinations.
A decade ago, my husband and I made a conscious effort to educate our children through travel. We wanted to teach them about the world, but also to show them how to move through it in a respectful and environmentally conscious way.
As first-time parents toting plastic diapers and formula, however, the possibility of truly green travel felt nearly impossible, so we opted to start with some basics.
Sustainable travel is tourism that actively contributes to environmental and community well-being. With every trip you take, the idea is to make decisions to embrace and participate in local events, invest in the community you visit, and put your vacation dollars to good use. That’s the mission of Sustainable Travel International, an organization that demonstrates ways that travel and tourism can lead to a healthier environment, greater economic opportunity, social justice and the protection of natural and cultural resources.
But what does sustainability look like in practice? Here are a few easy ways you can adopt sustainable travel practices in your family vacations, according to FamilyVacationist.com.
1. Shop and explore local
Shopping locally isn’t just something you should do in your own neighborhood. When you travel, buying from local vendors is both a great way to get to know a community and also a means of investing in the local economy. When you step into a local grocery store, fish market or farmers market, you’re getting to know the culture through food and vendors. Ask questions of the locals when you shop. It’s a great way to make an instant connection.
2. Green it up
No one can fault hotels and resorts for doing everything they can to remain open during the pandemic. But extra COVID-19 safety precautions like an increase in single-use items, plastics and to-go containers come with a cost to the environment. Even in these conditions, however, there are small sustainable habits you can adopt to reduce your carbon footprint as it relates to the travel and tourism industry – both now and after the pandemic.
First, go as paperless as possible. This means making everything from plane tickets to car reservations to road trip itineraries electronic wherever possible. Use the camera function on your phone to take photos of important documents. In many places, everything from fishing and hunting licenses to museum tickets to menus are available online. Take advantage of it whenever you can.
3. Slow down
How many times have you tried to squeeze a million activities into a two-day weekend getaway? It’s not ideal, and it’s also stressful. Instead, slow it down and choose a few activities that really pique your family’s interest. Remember, vacations with family are about quality, not quantity. Rather than a citywide bus or trolley tour, why not explore just one neighborhood or street by foot?
When you slow it down, you can appreciate the smaller details that often get lost in a whirlwind exploration: the smell of fresh-baked bread, the conversation wafting your way in a café, the salty breeze along the beachfront. These little sensory details are what will help you build a connection to a place or community, not simply check it off your bucket list.
4. Seek out local tour operators
While this is slowly changing, many tour operators and excursion companies that operate worldwide haven’t established meaningful relationships with local communities at their destinations, or don’t contribute as much to the local economy as do smaller tour operators based in the area. Often, travelers are drawn to glossy brochures or flashy websites, when in fact the best experiences are likely to come from local companies who are part of the communities they serve.
This is where doing your research to find reputable local providers of unique travel experiences – fishing trips, cooking classes, guided hikes or tours – makes all the difference between a mass-market vacation and a truly sustainable travel experience.
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Julie Bielenberg is a journalist and photographer based in Colorado who has had work published in over a dozen outlets, including FamilyVacationist.com.
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